212-scott-mccloud-full.jpgIt occurs to me, having read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, that describing something as a “comic book industry” 50 or 60 years ago would have been… you know, an industry that was behaving foolishly on a consistent basis. McCloud used “comic book talk” to have one character berate another for talking nonsense. McCloud sought to elevate the discourse by changing the name, but some days “comic book industry” seems pretty apt.

Here’s a story about my day yesterday:

Today’s a holiday here in Toronto (Labour Day! Spell it with a U), so everything is closed. Yesterday I was rushing out to do some shopping and so I hit a department store that purported to carry the kinds of things I needed to go on my trip to Japan… It had a pharmacy area, luggage section, electronics, that sort of thing. I found the selection really disappointing. The pharmacy didn’t have the insoles for my shoes (I would have liked to be ‘gellin’ at this point), they only had women’s sizes of what I wanted, and one lone “athletic” insole for the guys. I was in a rush, so I picked it up, but it was disappointing. In the luggage section, they didn’t seem to carry shoulder bags at all, despite having lots of other luggage, backpacks, and the like. Down in electronics they did have a couple of cheap watches, which was nice enough… The employees we talked to in the electronics section didn’t really know the product/layout either, as when we asked them where their watches were, they pointed to a display cabinet and said “they’re all right there”. We tripped on another display cabinet about 5 minutes later that had cheaper items, and closer to what we needed, that the salesperson seemingly didn’t know (or care) about. It was really annoying.
I’m disappointed in the department store overall though, because they had one and a half of the three things I needed, and even then, that half a thing could have been a full point if they had just paid attention to their stocking levels and the other point is tainted because of unknowledgable, unhelpful service. As a customer, I feel really inconvenienced, and I don’t have a positive impression of that establishment now, and I have a vested interest in them getting their act together because they’re near my house.

Now I’ve told you about it.

This all sounds reasonable, right? I mean, boring maybe, but reasonable. I had a mediocre and disappointing shopping experience, and I left really unhappy. I’m talking about it here. If that’s the case, then why, when someone does the same thing within the comics industry and talking about a comic book store, does the freak-parade start-up, ready to defend someone’s right to run a shitty business? Look at some this response in particular:

“What snobbery!!! This guy can rant all he wants, but he has no right to force a retailer to carry anything — or really to be upset about it. If a retailer in any industry only wants to sell certain products, and he can do so successfully, why should he stock something he doesn’t want to sell? The shop is (I assume ) thriving by selling products it wants to sell.” - Some anonymous coward.

greatspinnerrack.jpgWell of course! I mean, just visit the comic book store in question’s website! Totally looks like a thriving, well-run establishment to me. That’s totally the ASSUMPTION that I would make, if it came down to Eric Reynolds (20+ years in the comics industry ) versus a store owner that didn’t know Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly still published comics, that store is obviously thriving. And knowledgable too, apparently. Just like I wouldn’t expect a store with a luggage department to have the luggage I was looking for, or the SHOE INSOLE DISPLAY to have only one shoe insole for men amongst 30+ for women, or for the employees to know about their product, I think it’s fucking snobbish to expect a comic book store to carry comic books I want to buy, or to at least know about comic books.

It’d be easy to pick on the forum for this discussion, or mention that Heidi could’ve shaped the discussion a lot better or a lot earlier so as to not give ground to the anonymous-coward type comments, but really? Stockholm Syndrome. As mentioned yesterday. Not only should we just be content with what we have, and deal with things illegally if that’s what it takes, but even commenting that things could or should be changed is considered snobbery, or that the speaker is simply ignorant (a lot of the comments assume that Eric is ignorant of how retail works too, which… is stupid.)

I wish I had an “up” thing to end this one on, but I don’t. It’s really frustrating all around. Tom characterized my last post as throwing elbows, but to be completely honest it’s just to get a little elbow-room; a spot at the table, to pipe up. Ah well. This is my last comment on industry matters for the next few weeks. I will be in Japan soon, and blogging about ridiculous Japanese things. It’ll be great, and I’ll come back refreshed and revitalised and ready to take on the world. Or something.
- Christopher

2 Comments on “On being a grown-up in the comic-book industry.”

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  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Sept. 4, 2007: It’s Celebrate Spanish Royalty Week! says:

    [...] [Retailing] Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds visits a comic-book shop, gets depressed. Assembled funnybook fandom responds with fury in the comments section of Heidi MacDonald’s blog, while Christopher Butcher offers a few words of reason. [...]

  2. Joe S. Walker says:

    The situations would comparable if you named the places you shopped at, called the apparently quite inoffensive salesperson “a fucking tool*,” and were a manufacturer of insoles raging because they didn’t stock YOUR products.

    Online that is, not to his face. Cowardly?

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